St. John’s has won four straight and five of six since a drubbing against Creighton at the beginning of January.
Are the Johnnies improved? Definitely. But how improved are they, as they face another top team in the league, Villanova?
The Red Storm know this is a big game and a big opportunity to claw their way into the top half of the league — and put the Big East on notice that the Red Storm are moving up behind their young core.
This is the first time the Johnnies have faced a top-three ranked opponent on campus since 1980; though it’s not the same as having the students and fans in the house.
Still, in this strange year, with the Red Storm surging... upsets can happen.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (11-7, 5-6 Big East) vs. Villanova Wildcats (11-1, 6-0 Big East)
When: Wednesday, February 3, 2021, 9:00 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, IL
TV: CBS Sports Network | Online
The longtime standard-bearers for the Big East, the Villanova Wildcats have been consistent in being tall, talented three-point shooting teams that don’t often make mistakes. Last year’s and this year’s Villanova team are a little more actively disruptive with defense (especially in the half court); this year’s team is the Big East’s leaders in turnovers forced per possession.
(Connecticut is second, and St. John’s is only third in league play.)
Like with St. John’s, teams that can get past the defensive pressure have seen opportunities to score. But unlike St. John’s, they also rebound the defensive end very well, and they do not foul, two aspects of the game where St. John’s are worst in the Big East.
Senior guard Collin Gillespie (#2) is the point guard and leader, and the team’s leader in three-pointers taken and made. He is good with the ball and dangerous as a passer once he gets to the right spot; he has had stretches where he tries to do too much scoring. St. John’s needs to focus on cutting off his passing lanes and his lanes to the basket and make him a jump shooter — preferably under pressure and inside the three-point line (that is a lot to ask, yes).
Fellow point guard Justin Moore (#5) is very good and skilled with the ball as well. He is less of an outside shooter than Gillespie, but a little better at getting to the rim and scoring.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (#24) is a very skilled forward whose shot goes out to the three-point line, but is more dangerous inside the arc. He has a very reliable jump shot inside the line — one of the rare college players where defenders should consider defending that shot diligently. (Usually a 15-foot jumper should be a shot that a defense allows — low value and low percentage.) Robinson-Earl rarely looks to pass when the ball gets to him in a scoring position.
Jermaine Samuels (#23) is a junkyard dog rebounder and all around physical presence inside. He’s an okay three-point shooter but very dangerous under or on his way to the basket. He is good defensively.
Those four will do the bulk of the offensive damage, but shooters Caleb Daniels (#14) on the perimeter and Cole Swider (#10) and Brandon Slater (#3) on the wings are very good three-point shooters who do their jobs defensively. Slater will draw fouls and can get up for a dunk; Swider is 6’9” and mainly shoots threes; Daniels is an excellent per-possession scorer who takes a back seat to the four key players on the Wildcats.
Eric Dixon is an x-factor; he is undersized but strong in the paint on rebounds and putbacks.
Keys to the Game
Posh + Rasheem: Chaotic. Both Rasheem Dunn and Posh Alexander have been game-changing players for St. John’s, creating opportunities on defense (respectively) where there seemed to be no chance. Both have to focus and play their top games, forcing Villanova to hurry on threes, worry about their handles, and get the two teams into a sloppy game.
Something from the outside. Julian Champagnie will earn a lot of attention from the Villanova defenders; some other player needs to step up, particularly from the outside, to take the pressure off. Will Greg Williams, Jr. return? Can Vince Cole score in a spurt, or will he play a too-cautious game? Can Marcellus Earlington and Dylan Addae-Wusu add something on offense?
Be better defensively. The Johnnies have been better on interior defense (and on defense generally) in the recent streak. Villanova will be a higher-level challenge, and the team will need to do better on defense — not just in forcing tough shots, but in rebounding defensively and not fouling.
St. John’s fights but falls, 82-77.